Meurig Raymond, president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), said the opportunity is clear, with demand for food and renewable energy on the rise and the recognition by 88 per cent of the UK public that farming is important to the economy, according to a recent survey.
Farmers were ready to deliver more food with fewer inputs and better care for the environment, he said, but what was needed now was a government that understood farming, that supports growth and that has the policies that send the right business signals to farmers.
Mr Raymond launched the NFU’s Election Manifesto at Westminster this week. The document offers 47 detailed policy recommendations that the industry, with the backing of government, should address.
Among the most eye-catching recommendations was for a full return of free school milk, the introduction of a seasonal labour scheme open to students from outside the EU to undertake seasonal harvest work on UK farms and the acceleration of the rollout of high-speed broadband to all rural areas.
Richard Pearson, the NFU’s regional director for Yorkshire and the North East, said the region was well-positioned to deliver growth in the future with the right policies from government.
Mr Pearson told Country Week: “Investment and innovation are key to producing more food for a growing population and one thing this administration has done is reinvest in an Agri-Tech strategy and we need to see this commitment continue.
“Yorkshire is well placed to drive this forward. It has fantastic universities, Askham Bryan and Bishop Burton colleges, Fera and Yorkshire Bioscience for example.
“We are also the largest producer of sheep in the UK and farming has been a real success story during the recession.”
UK farmers’ contribution to the economy has grown by £2.34bn (34 per cent) in the five years to 2013 and Mr Pearson said the NFU would be making its messages clear to North East MEP Paul Brannen, Labour’s lead on agriculture at the European Parliament, on a farm visit in Newcastle.
He added that the next government should pursue a cross-party agreement for the River Hull Integrated Catchment Strategy, establish a TB relegation strategy to keep the disease out of Yorkshire, introduce laws to make fly grazing illegal and provide more support for agricultural apprenticeships such as the scheme operating in the North York Moors working with the next generation of hill farmers.
NFU President Mr Raymond said he expected a very tight election in 2015 in which marginal seats will be very important.
“Those are the seats the parties will put a lot of time and effort into, and we want to make sure this message is heard there,” he said.
“People say farming is only two per cent of the population, but in certain seats in the country, in some coalition seats, we can have a big say.”
The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has also released its own 2015 Election Manifesto.
It proposes 76 recommendations, from property ownership to farming, natural resources and business and technology, which should “challenge urban preconceptions of the countryside as an environment to be preserved in aspic”, Douglas Chalmers, the CLA’s regional director of policy and public affairs said.
The manifesto calls for a realistic approach to rural policy-making. Among the recommendations is a call to reduce the rate of VAT from 20 per cent to five per cent in order to stimulate rural economic growth, create new jobs and increase revenue from tourism.